On the weekend of August 11-12, 1945, mere days after the nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States released the first thousand copies of A General Account of the Development of Methods of Using Atomic Energy for Military Purposes.* Written by Princeton University physicist and Manhattan Project contributor Henry DeWolf Smyth, it had been commissioned in the spring of 1944 by General Leslie R. Groves, head of the Project, and its purpose was twofold: first, to inform “men of science in this country” about nuclear military technology in order that they might “help their fellow citizens in reaching wise decisions” in the future (Smyth, Atomic Energy 226); second, “to say as much as possible [about the Manhattan Project] in an official statement carefully prepared and reviewed and then to instruct people on the project to say nothing more even after they had left the project” (Smyth, “Smyth Report” 180-181).
On September 15, a small but canny group of booksellers began offering for sale the Princeton University Press edition of the report, now titled Atomic Energy for Military Purposes: The Official Report on the Development of the Atomic Bomb Under the Auspices of the United States Government, 1940-1945. The book became an unlikely bestseller: according to Princeton University Press director Datus P. Smith, from 1945 to 1973 the Smyth report (as it came to be known) sold over 125,000 copies domestically, and though “neither Harry Smyth nor the Press had any systematic way of keeping track of translated editions … we had some kind of evidence of translations into about 40 languages” (Smith 199).
From the beginning, Princeton University Press sought to market the Smyth report to employees of the Manhattan Project at Hanford, Oak Ridge, and Los Alamos. When their usual distributors proved reluctant (one refused even to phone a Tennessee outlet, saying, “I don’t want to waste your money”) (Smith 197), the Press teamed up with the employee welfare organization at Oak Ridge to vend the book directly. “We sold about 8,000 copies in Oak Ridge and a couple thousand each in Los Alamos and Richland [i.e. Hanford] through somewhat similar arrangements,” gloated Smith (198).
Evidence of that success abounds in the copies of Atomic Energy for Military Purposes recently presented to the Penn Libraries by Michael Zinman as part of the Zinman Atomic Energy Collection, several of which have autographs or marks of ownership from participants in the Manhattan Project. One copy of the 1945 edition is autographed by Smyth himself and another by Edward Teller and Hans Bethe.A third is signed by sixteen people involved in the development of the gaseous diffusion method of producing enriched uranium at Columbia University and Oak Ridge, including Eugene T. Booth, Clarke Williams, and George Moseley Murphy.
The Smyth report also seems to have been considered an apt gift for the scientists and engineers who worked on the Manhattan Project. The copy autographed by Teller and Bethe has pasted in beneath their signatures a folded piece of paper with the inscription, “With all good wishes, Ernest O Lawrence.” Another copy, dated 4 October 1945, is inscribed from the Kellex Corporation (the Manhattan Project division of the M.W. Kellogg Company) to H. A. (Harry Alonzo) Winne, an electrical engineer and General Electric executive who consulted at Oak Ridge. This book is signed by a number of bigwigs, including General Groves, his deputies Thomas F. Farrell and Kenneth D. Nichols, Kellex heads P. C. Keith and Albert L. Baker, and the president of Taylor Instrument Company, Lewis B. Smith, as well as by Lieutenant Colonel James C. Stowers, physicists Henry A. Boorse and John R. Dunning and the otherwise unidentified Victoria R. Musial (possibly an administrative assistant; a woman of that name worked as a stenographer in New York City in 1933), among others.
A fifth copy contains a typescript note signed by Manhattan Project chemist and Princeton professor Hugh S. Taylor which reads:
A sixth copy was presented, probably in 1946, to electrical engineer Robert R. (Robert Raymond) Peatfield (1906-1988) and signed by seventy-one of his fellow employees of the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant. Peatfield’s name appears nowhere in the volume, but one signer, Frances Ketler, added “XXXOOO To Mrs. Peatfield” (i.e. Alice Gertrude Peatfield, née Forshee; 1909-2009) after her signature.
No famous names here, but plenty that figure in Y-12’s in-house newsletter, the Y-12 Bulletin — as, for instance, George B. Tucker, the seventh name in the front pastedown’s left-hand column, whose family’s bowling prowess was lauded on 24 May 1949, or Edith Ann Manson (1922-1998) and Charles S. Harrill (1909-2002), names eight and ten in the left-hand column on the front endleaf, whose marriage was reported on 15 July 1947. Another interoffice romance can be discerned in the front endleaf’s right-hand column, between Patsy Elmore (1921-2000), eighth from the top, and Paul C. Hauber (1918-1993), second from the bottom, who were married on 14 September 1946, providing a terminus ante quem for these undated autographs.
In such volumes we gain a glimpse not only of the science of nuclear technology, but also of its culture.
*Which was actually its subtitle. The main title, Atomic Bombs, was supposed to be stamped separately on the title page after printing, but for some reason none but the copyright-deposit copies were so treated (Smyth, “Smyth Report” 185).
Smith, Datus C. (Spring 1976). “The Publishing History of the ‘Smyth Report’.” The Princeton University Library Chronicle 37.3 (Spring 1976): 191–203.
Smyth, Henry DeWolf. Atomic Energy for Military Purposes: The Official Report on the Development of the Atomic Bomb under the Auspices of the United States Government, 1940-1945. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1945.
Smyth, Henry DeWolf. “The ‘Smyth Report’.” The Princeton University Library Chronicle 37.3 (Spring 1976): 173–90
Liz Broadwell has a doctorate in English literature from the University of Pennsylvania and catalogs rare books in the Special Collections Processing Center.